중앙데일리

[Perspective]
In fashion and art, the lines that bind

Apr 14,2009
Hellen Hye-in Choo
In the brief moments of spring that are now afforded us between putting away the long underwear and breaking out the summer clothes, last weekend was a day for Seoulites to come out of their shells. With cherry blossoms dusting the city with their snowy petals, cooped-up residents flocked out into the spring air to take in the blooms on Yeouido or Mount Namsan, enjoying extensive family time in the massive traffic jams that clogged the city as a result of the rush.

I chose Namsan for the requisite blossom browse, getting in the lineup to the top of the mountain somewhere around Haebangchon. Namsan is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to Seoul’s peaks; usually, you’re required to deck yourself out in head-to-toe mountaineering equipment if you want to be taken even remotely seriously during the hour-or-so walk to the top.

But on Namsan, maybe because of its proximity to the center of the city, you need to get dressed up like you’re on your way out for a night on the town. Girls should wear high heels for the climb, and it seems that bow ties are the latest must-have hiking accessory for hardy Namsan men.

These fashion regulations were lost on the hapless non-Koreans, who found themselves the object of thinly veiled scorn in their comfy jeans and threadbare T-shirts.

This fashion face-off was particularly prominent on Namsan this weekend, but it can be found all over the city on any given day - a young Korean couple in matching pink cardigans covering their mouths as they laugh politely at the head-to-toe denim of the portly foreigners taking their picture.

Nowhere are taste-related distinctions more prominent than in the art world, so this week I decided to speak with Korean artist Hellen Hye-in Choo for a little more insight.

Choo, 25, studied in the U.K. and the States, graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design and then going on to grad school at the Hongik International Design School of Advanced Studies. Last week, she had a successful solo show at Lavazza Club in Apgujeong, and she won an international competition to join a group exhibition in New York in August.

She was a little reticent to lay out the lines that divide the Korean and American art scenes, but with a little prodding, she came through.

“You can’t generalize that the Korean art scene is like this and the American scene is like that, but I would say that here it’s a lot more conservative. I’ve heard it said that here you’re not considered an artist unless you’re over 30,” she said, adding that there are also gender issues that come into play.

“One curator I know said that being Korean and a woman, you have two things working against you,” she said.

“You hear a lot of things like that. ‘Are you sure you want to be an artist? You might have to get married.’”

Choo refuses to be guided by what a certain group of people may expect of her, however.

“I don’t think a woman artist has to be miserable and divorced,” she said.

“Life is changing. Living artists are becoming successful. You don’t have to be dead to be successful. How do you define success anyway? If I’m making art that I like and people are enjoying it, then what more can you ask for? I’m going to be a happy painter.”

Choo is participating in a Bafta-affiliated charity auction and ball at the end of this month in the U.K., where some of her pieces will be auctioned off. You can check out Choo’s work at http://hellenchoo.blogspot.com.


By Richard Scott-Ashe, Deputy Editor [richard@joongang.co.kr]



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